Why Apple can not build a Subnotebook at the moment

Discussion in 'MacBook Air' started by Gruber, Jul 27, 2009.

  1. Gruber macrumors regular

    Jun 15, 2009
    Abstract: Apple can not support small high-resolution screens, because MacOS is fundamentally unable to adjust its DPI settings.

    Like many of you, I am looking for an ultraportable Mac ever since the 12in Powerbook was discontinued. And while the Air fits the bill in terms of weight, I find its footprint too large.

    For a long time I have been hoping for a compact, high-specced device, with a barely full-size keyboard and a small, very hi-res screen. Something like a Vaio TT running MacOS.

    Turns out: it can not be done, at least not at the moment, and the reason is Apple's still lacking support for resolution independence.

    That's right. It is 2009, and still almost no App supports resolution independence in MacOS (even though Apple's developer styleguides clamor for it since 2006). Despite it being planned for Tiger, and then for Leopard, it is also not going to be a part of Snow Leopard. And we are not going to see it next year either, because it will require almost all application GUIs to be re-done. Not only those from third-party vendors, but those done by Apple itself.

    Resolution independence is not so much an issue of everything being drawn as vector graphics. True, icons may look a little worse if re-scaled, but that is just cosmetics. The really important parts are window dimensions, widget positions and font sizes.

    This is one of the bits that work pretty well in the Windows world, for a few years now: you could have a 11in display with a 1900x1200 resolution. Simply set the DPI to 200, and everything will have the same size as before - only it will be amazingly crisp. Then reduce your system font sizes to strike a nice balance between readability and space.

    MacOS has a fixed resolution of 72dpi. In this respect it is trapped in an eternal bubble of blissful 1984. My 30in screen has 120dpi, and guess what: it is extremely difficult to read many of the tiny fonts.

    When I got my Mac, at first I could not believe this! By now I have read several dozen conversations in the forums, which typically take place between a recent Windows user looking for the DPI switch, and a bunch of Applecolytes heavily in denial. (And in the real world, I found that many Apple users above the age of 30 simply reduce the screen resolution to decipher the fonts. Ugh!)

    So for the time being, Apple has to use relatively low resolution screens in their machines, which together with Apple's inferior sub-pixel antialiasing create a blurry appearance. That's why the Air had to have a 13in screen! And that's why Apple's new 10in device with either sport a very low resolution, or it will not use Leopard, but has to be based on the iPhone OS.

    BTW: You can try to adjust the screen DPI experimentally in Leopard. Just fire up a terminal and enter "defaults write -g AppleDisplayScaleFactor 1.5". Restart and discover all kinds of unbelievable f***up.
  2. Appleness macrumors member

    Feb 26, 2009
    Very interesting.

    So, that's why everything is easier to read on my iPod Touch than on my Air...
  3. iSee macrumors 68040


    Oct 25, 2004
    This is a standard chicken-and-egg thing that Apple is usually pretty good about managing.

    But clearly, apps are not going to support resolution independence until users demand it (en masse), and users aren't going to demand it at least until a dpi setting is supported by the OS.

    I think Apple at least has to expose a dpi setting in the system settings.

    I don't know what they are waiting for... I guess they just have higher priorities. I suppose they do not believe they are losing significant sales due to this.

    I'm not sure what you are referring to here. If it's text rendering then I strongly disagree (though it is a matter of opinion, so I can't say you are wrong).
  4. Gruber thread starter macrumors regular

    Jun 15, 2009
    No, they cannot expose such a setting.

    The setting already exists, but breaks all sorts of applications at the moment. For instance, the status bar and the buttons in the Finder will float around, the dock menu will wander off far to the right, iTunes will resort to interpolate-magnifying everything, Safari mangles the scaling of lines, the calculator gets the rounded corners of its number display wrong and many other things. Even the mouse pointer will be broken on hovering!

    Also, Apple is well aware of the problem, because resolution independence had been announced as a major feature in the past. 2006 style guides refer to it as absolute necessity to cater for higher-resolution screens. His Steveness was all for bigger screen resolutions. And then: resolution independence changed to "may be in Leopard" status, and finally disappeared. Now it is not mentioned any more.

    I guess that Apple is working on the issue, and plans to fix it gradually for its own Apps before forcing 3rd party vendors to re-do their UIs. Perhaps that was one of the main reasons to rewrite the Finder for Snow Leopard. But the problems are far too numerous to be fixed in the next OS release.

    (As for the debate on subpixel rendering, I do not think that this is a matter of taste or Apple's possibly superior idea of WYSIWIG, but simply of denial. Not important here, though.)
  5. SnowLeopard2008 macrumors 604


    Jul 4, 2008
    Silicon Valley
    Response in bold.

  6. Gruber thread starter macrumors regular

    Jun 15, 2009

    I am afraid that I do not understand you. Perhaps because we have a different understanding of Netbooks and subnotebooks. BTW, I also had a P (too slow), but I did not need to squint. If you want to understand why, read original post.
  7. SnowLeopard2008 macrumors 604


    Jul 4, 2008
    Silicon Valley
    As I understand it, the MBA is not a netbook, but a subnotebook.
  8. Gruber thread starter macrumors regular

    Jun 15, 2009
    The MBA is neither a netbook nor a real subnotebook. There is nothing sub about the Air. It is just a very thin and pretty light notebook with a normal footprint.

    Netbooks are low price/low specced and address buyers that want a cheap, expendable computer for on-the-go note-taking and web surfing. Subnotebooks are fully specced, but ultra-compact. They cater for people that travel a lot and need a full-speed laptop and are willing to pay a premium for mobility.

    This is because you are using an operating system that is not resolution aware, which is precisely the whole point of this thread. If Leopard was resolution independent (as it was originally intended to be), your fonts and UI elements would not get smaller, but only sharper with increasing resolution.

    It is more like having a large book with very big print vs. a small travel edition, with a smaller page, and slightly smaller fonts. With Leopard, Apple can not print small travel book pages (figuratively speaking), simply because they only support low resolutions for their UI. Large mushy fonts become small mushy fonts.
  9. the vj macrumors 6502a

    Nov 23, 2006
    I do not believe the problem is that

    I mean, resolution is the least thing Apple would worry, if they fix so many things already resolution would not be an issue, there are many other factors to consider.

    Even you are right in many things, I remember upgrading my 14" PB Pismo from OS9 to X and the resolution dropped. But my 12" PB has better resolution even with an smaller screen size. So, I believe Apple take cares of the resolution sizes when the device is native to that OS.

    What I believe about the sub notebook is that Apple can not create something so cheap... if it has most of the features of the MBP it will be competing with the MBP. In order to not compete it will lack of so many features that will make the costumers upset. Remember, Apple will give you a basic device but planed for you to get the next expensive with those particular features you would like to have.

    That is why Apple can not come up with a sub notebook. In the case of Sony and the rest of the company that has them... they are not the leading company in the world, Apple is.

    But eventually the 12" fator will be back, I have 3 12" PB and they are great.
  10. mwpeters8182 macrumors 6502

    Apr 16, 2003
    Boston, MA
    This doesn't make any sense. Otherwise, we'd all be sitting at 640x480 right now, like we were 10 years ago. Unless you mean super-high DPI screens. I've got a 22" 1600x1050 (or something like that) screen, and it's just as comfortable to work on as my 13" macbook, or my 18" monitor at work.
  11. darklyt macrumors regular

    Jun 5, 2007
    I think he meant it's bad on your eyes to be running something like a 1440x900 resolution on the 13" MBP screen. You have the ability to fit more on the screen than a 1280x800 resolution provides, but it puts more strain on your eyes making on the details than if you're running that resolution on a 15" MBP.

Share This Page